41. SIMA SAMAR
For defending Afghanistan’s women, even as the world looks away.
Chair, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission | Afghanistan
Many lament the plight of women in Afghanistan — Sima Samar has actually done something about it. The 55-year-old doctor founded the Shuhada (“Martyrs”) Organization in 1989, and it has gone on to help educate tens of thousands of Afghan girls and provided health services to millions more. Now, ahead of a scheduled U.S. withdrawal in 2014 that is raising the prospect of a post-American Afghanistan where the Taliban once again force women out of public sight, Samar insists the government in Kabul and its Western allies take their rhetoric on women’s rights seriously. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in at a ceremony honoring Samar last year, she challenges us to “think more deeply about what making peace really requires” — and it’s more than just getting the men to lay down their arms.
From her perch at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the country’s official monitor for everything from civilian rights during wartime to detainee abuse, Samar has rung the alarm bell about the dismal state of women’s participation in modern-day Afghanistan. Even after a decade of the United States showering Afghanistan with some $90 billion in taxpayer dollars, there’s not enough to show for it. “The sad part is that the international community’s actions do not reflect what they say,” Samar said this year. “It talks about women’s rights, but then they don’t include them” in peace negotiations with the Taliban, or much of anything else. She has also taken on her own government, loudly criticizing its reliance on Islamic law and cultural norms that force women to wear burqas.
It’s a vital message in a country where almost 90 percent of women can’t read and childbirth is moredangerous than just about anywhere else on the plantet; a country where a woman who is raped can be prosecuted for adultery and the female suicide rate is among the world’s highest. And with the government actively trying to bring the Taliban back into the political process, Samar represents a bulwark against the return of the Islamist movement’s medieval vision. “I am used to playing with fire,” she has said. “Somebody has to do it.”
42. DEBBIE BOSANEK, WARREN BUFFETT
For demanding that a secretary not pay more than her billionaire boss.
Administrative assistant, investor | Omaha, Neb.
Not long ago, the world’s fourth-richest man did something very unusual: He demanded to pay more taxes. “[W]hat I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office,” Warren Buffett announced to a chorus of hosannas in the New York Times.
One person who enthusiastically took up the call was U.S. President Barack Obama, who made “Warren Buffett’s secretary” part of his stump speech amid a growing debate over skyrocketing inequality in the tax code and most other facets of the American economy. He soon proposed a tax plan known as the “Buffett Rule,” which would impose a minimum 30 percent tax on individuals making more than $1 million annually. (Republicans in Congress were decidedly less enthusiastic about the idea.) In Obama’s State of the Union address in January, when he came to the line, “Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary,” the camera flashed on 56-year-old Nebraska native Debbie Bosanek, a living symbol of tax inequality. The modest Bosanek, who has worked for Buffett for two decades, says merely, “I was representing just the average citizen who, you know, needs a voice and wants to be treated fairly in the area of taxation.” But it’s clear that the Sage of Omaha and his assistant have sparked a long overdue conversation about economic fairness in the United States and the public policies that undermine it.
43. CHARLES MURRAY
For showing that conservatives have no monopoly on family values.
Author | Burkittsville, Md.
Charles Murray thinks that the United States is splitting at the seams, and the culprit is a widening gap between the country’s wealthy and its poor. But it’s the yawning cultural gulf between the two white Americas that he’s most worried about, as he writes in his 2012 book, Coming Apart, which paints a sad picture of the decline of the white working class in the United States amid the rise of a globally empowered wealthy new upper crust.
To examine this divergence, Murray devised hypothetical Fishtown and Belmont, the first corresponding to a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood and the second to a wealthy Boston suburb. In Fishtown, marriage rates plunged from 84 percent to 48 percent between 1960 and 2010, the violent crime rate sextupled, and the number of disabled quintupled. But in Belmont, a full 83 percent of the adult population is married and 84 percent of children live with both biological parents. In other words, Murray’s conclusion is that those Volvo-driving, latte-sipping coastal liberals got where they are today by embracing conservative “family values,” not rejecting them.
Even some critics of Murray — whose lightning-rod views came to the fore with his controversial 1994 book, The Bell Curve — have called Coming Apart a compelling portrait of a new problem that American politics has yet to grapple with. “The word ‘class’ doesn’t even capture the divide Murray describes,” New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote. “You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.” Rich and poor Americans used to engage in the same leisure activities and live in the same ZIP codes, but today, as Murray notes, it’s inconceivable to imagine Belmont’s 1 percenters turning up at Applebee’s or a NASCAR race. “The problem I describe isn’t a conservative-versus-liberal problem,” Murray said. “It’s a cultural problem the whole country has.”
44. ANDREW MARSHALL
For thinking way, way outside the Pentagon box.
Military futurist | Washington
Known as the Pentagon’s “futurist in chief” — or, more affectionately, “Yoda” among Defense Department insiders — Andrew Marshall has spent the past 40 years speculating about over-the-horizon threats to the United States. At the top of his list today: a rapidly militarizing and increasingly belligerent China. As the longtime director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, the nonagenarian Marshall has spent recent years devising battle plans for an admittedly unlikely showdown with Beijing.
But unlikely scenarios are Marshall’s specialty. The details of his blueprint, known as the Air-Sea Battle, are classified, but its aim is to coordinate the U.S. Air Force and Navy more closely in order to respond to future threats to the global commons, not just in potential flash points like the South China Sea but all over the world — even helping the military reach melting ice caps in the Arctic. Marshall’s ambitious “organizing concept,” as Air Force Secretary Michael Donley calls it, has moved outside the realm of ideas as Barack Obama’s administration has sought to turn its proclaimed “pivot” to Asia into military reality. A hot war with China, for one, would be one of the most complicated logistical problems in U.S. military history. In that sense, Air-Sea Battle is bigger than any single military doctrine — it’s a bureaucratic reorientation that has already inspired more than 200 Air Force and Navy initiatives, including a new precision conventional-weapons system called Prompt Global Strike, as well as the Next-Generation Bomber program. Wired magazine has calledMarshall’s concept a “help desk for 21st Century warfare.”
Marshall, an appointee of Richard Nixon who has been reappointed by every president since, seems also to have shaped Chinese military strategy. Gen. Chen Zhou, who helped write China’s four most recent defense white papers, told the Economist, “Our great hero was Andy Marshall in the Pentagon. We translated every word he wrote.”
45. ALEXEY NAVALNY
For finding the Kremlin’s weak spot.
Activist blogger | Russia
Alexey Navalny almost single-handedly reinvented Russia’s moribund activist culture for the digital era. Soon, he could be spending his days behind bars, if President Vladimir Putin has his way. A commercial-rights lawyer by training, Navalny painstakingly built a large following in recent years for his unique LiveJournal blog, a pioneering exercise in accountability in which he and his loyal readers sift through mountains of paperwork to uncover corrupt practices by Russia’s political and business elite — a busy job in a country that ranks 143rd on Transparency International’sCorruption Perceptions Index. After exposing embezzlement and malfeasance at major state-owned energy companies and banks, he turned to politics more explicitly. Navalny famously described Putin’s ruling United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves,” a nickname that stuck and helped fuel the anti-regime protests that began in late 2011. Navalny took a central role in organizing those protests, sparked by Putin’s impending return to the presidency — a process that felt more like a coronation than an election. Regularly at the forefront of major demonstrations in Moscow, the blogger has ties to nationalist parties rather than the traditional Western-backed anti-Putin intelligentsia, making him a particularly potent, homegrown threat. Navalny has said he took inspiration from Arab Spring uprisings, telling Reuters, “If they do not voluntarily start to reform by themselves, I do not doubt that this will happen in Russia.”
Now the Kremlin has seemingly struck back by filing charges of embezzlement against Navalny. Although they appear dubious, they’re certainly cause for concern given the fate of Kremlin critics like former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now in his ninth year in prison. Of course, if the authorities do lock up Navalny, they’ll only be proving his point.
46. THOMAS MANN, NORMAN ORNSTEIN
For diagnosing America’s political dysfunction.
Political scientists | Washington
The past few years have produced one testament after another to America’s broken political system: the most partisan Congress on record, the first U.S. credit-rating downgrade ever, one of themost polarizing presidencies in recent memory, and the least popular and productive U.S. legislature in modern history.
But that’s usually where the conversation ends. Enter the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Mann and the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein, two of the Beltway’s most respected congressional experts, who had the temerity to point fingers and name names. Their verdict, rendered in their new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, is surprisingly blunt for two such consummate centrist insiders: The increasingly adversarial relationship between the Democrats and Republicans is imperiling America’s constitutional democracy, and the GOP is the primary villain.
The Republican Party “has become ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition,” they write, while allowing that the Democratic Party is “no paragon of civic virtue” either. The “asymmetry between the parties, which journalists and scholars often brush aside or whitewash in a quest for ‘balance,’ constitutes a huge obstacle to effective governance,” they add.
It’s hard to disagree, when Republicans’ obstinate refusal to countenance any new revenues has America staring at a “fiscal cliff” that independent economists warn could plunge the country into a new recession. We can’t say they didn’t warn us.
47. MOHAMMAD FAHAD AL-QAHTANI
For putting Saudi Arabia on trial.
Activist | Saudi Arabia
“Make no mistake,” Saudi activist Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani said this summer after being arraigned on a long list of charges accusing him of promoting sedition. “We are all going to prison.” It’s hard to argue with that: The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, which Qahtani co-founded, has broken some of Saudi Arabia’s biggest taboos, highlighting corruption within the monarchy and questioning its legitimacy to govern.
Qahtani, an American-educated economics professor outraged at Saudi Arabia’s treatment of political prisoners, has been at the forefront of efforts to popularize the idea that even citizens of one of the planet’s most repressive and unaccountable monarchies deserve to be treated like human beings, regardless of what lies beneath its sands. “All authoritarian rule is illegitimate, even more so when it is an apartheid and despotic regime,” a petition posted on his group’s website reads.
The Saudi regime charged Qahtani with “breaking allegiance to the ruler,” but the activist has tried to put the entire government on trial. Banned from leaving the country as he awaits his verdict, he faces years in prison if convicted. Although few Saudis are nearly as outspoken, Qahtani hears the rumblings of dissent on the horizon. “Eventually, the regime will fail,” he told Al-Monitor. “This price … is a small token for regaining our people’s liberty and freedom.”
48. ABDULHADI, MARYAM, AND ZAINAB AL-KHAWAJA, NABEEL RAJAB
For insisting that free speech is a right, no matter where you live.
Activists | Bahrain
Bahrain, the tiny archipelago wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is the only country where tear gas and buckshot have succeeded (so far) in squelching an Arab Spring uprising. And for the ruling monarchy, the brave activists who run the Bahrain Center for Human Rights are Public Enemy No. 1.
The center, co-founded in 2002 by Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and others, played a vital role in advancing the idea that all Bahrainis should be treated equally in this religiously divided kingdom, regardless of their sect. But after Rajab called via Twitter for a powerful member of the ruling family to step down, the monarchy had enough — in July he was hauled into prison for “insulting” Bahrainis. Khawaja, who has been a thorn in the government’s side since the 1970s, fared even worse: His jaw was shattered in four places by police upon his arrest last year, and he subsequently embarked on a marathon hunger strike that turned him into a global cause célèbre.
The activists’ sacrifices, however, have gone largely unrecognized in Washington, which has been only too eager to ignore the revolt in a country that hosts a critical U.S. naval base and is an ally in efforts to isolate Iran. “It has become evident today that, to the United States, democracy and human rights should only be applied to countries that are in conflict with the United States — but not with dictatorships it calls its allies,” Rajab told Foreign Policy before his arrest. With the two veteran opposition leaders in jail, the Khawaja daughters, Maryam, 25, and Zainab, 29, have taken up their father’s mantle to remind Americans that their founding principles are applicable the world over. “This is an issue of pride and dignity. People are sick and tired of living in a country where they cannot speak about what is on their mind,” Zainab told Der Spiegel. “I am speaking out, but we are paying a high price for it.”
49. HARUKI MURAKAMI
For his vast imagination of a globalized world.
Novelist | Japan
When New York Times Magazine critic Sam Anderson visited Tokyo last year to interview Haruki Murakami, he arrived, he later wrote, “expecting Barcelona or Paris or Berlin — a cosmopolitan world capital whose straight-talking citizens were fluent not only in English but also in all the nooks and crannies of Western culture: jazz, theater, literature, sitcoms, film noir, opera, rock ‘n’ roll.” It’s no wonder — Anderson had immersed himself in Murakami’s fictional Japan, where ennui-afflicted characters read Kafka and listen to Thelonious Monk. Although his novels are set in his insular native country, Murakami has become something of a patron saint of globalization.
Growing up outside Kobe, Murakami became enamored of American jazz and Western writers, from Dostoyevsky to Vonnegut, Dickens to Capote. He owned a jazz club in Tokyo before turning to the world of fiction, where he is renowned for his genre-bending novels that span different universes yet are littered with real-world cross-cultural references. Now, with 12 novels and dozens of short stories translated into more than 40 languages, Murakami is his country’s most famous living author.
His latest novel, the nearly 1,000-page 1Q84, has been hailed as a lively, if bizarre, creative achievement and a paean to a Tokyo that Murakami calls “a kind of civilized world.” But Murakami doesn’t shy away from hot political topics. Last year he controversially called Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident a “mistake committed by our very own hands.” And this year, after his books werepulled from shelves in China amid a territorial dispute with Japan, he chalked up the standoff to the “cheap liquor” of nationalism. 1Q84‘s title is a nod to the classic by George Orwell, with whom Murakami says he has a “common feeling against the system” — a subversiveness he perhaps best expresses by creating a universe all his own.
50. ROBERT KAGAN
For writing the one book Obama and Romney could agree on.
Author | Washington
These days, it’s nearly impossible to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything. But Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, managed to capture the attention of both left and right with this year’s The World America Made. The book, which argues forcefully that American decline is a myth and calls for a continued assertive U.S. role in world affairs, was a major influence on Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, in which the president declared, “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Mitt Romney’s campaign, meanwhile, brought on Kagan as a foreign-policy advisor.
Kagan, whose previous big-think book cemented the Bush-era image of a muscular America from Mars and a soft-power Europe from Venus amid the disagreements of the Iraq war, now makes a powerful case that the present international order rests on U.S. military and economic might — not its liberal values. Maintaining American hegemony is imperative for global peace and security, he argues, because “one of the main causes of war throughout history has been a rough parity of power that leaves nations in doubt about who is stronger.” In an election year, it’s not difficult to see why Kagan’s narrative about America’s indispensability appealed to both parties. Romney, for example, took to including a line or two about how America is the “greatest country in the history of the world” in his speeches. Obama liked the book so much that he reportedly spent 10 minutes during a meeting with leading media personalities going over an excerpt line by line.